Smoking and eating the flowers of the Thames 2014

bnr#73 => Smoking and eating the flowers of the Thames 2014

Update Dec 2010


Update - discussion document - Proposal.

The work will resemble experimental apparatus from the early 18th Century. Will will create between 2-5 devices that will form the bases of the public lecture which will also take as its cue, the early electrical demonstrations from this period. The apparatus will then be installed in the building for the public to inspect. Both the
public lecture and the apparatus will be video streamed on the council website. All events will be documented.

This is an update of our research, it's methods and experiments so far. It aims to set out the general thrust of the work while leaving open those parts which will be confirmed by further experiments and the practicalities of coordination and installation.

This work will resolve into an assemblage of events, experiments, instruments, public engagements, and documents around the different spaces of the Bristol City Council House.

We have been engaged with the project since we received the commission and have busied ourselves with formulating and reformulating ideas for this work trying to tease out the questions left over from our original proposal. The questions that we have been working with include the following. How to increase the transparency of how and why the data is collected, showing which decisions the data informs. How do we make the data vital and immediate enough to critically question the present day? How should we close the gap between public perception of data and the social experience it attempts to model? How should the project explore the political sensitivities of the data and in which ways can it usefully expose the positioning of the user and subject of the records.

We want to explore Bristol City Council's openness toward data and how the public can be involved in this process. We want to do this in the Council House, the seat of decisions made with the data and the place where the data is used to evidence policies affecting the lives of Bristolians. By opening up this data in the council house, we see our work as bringing people into a process of reflection on the council’s openness and on the formal qualities of the database and its various meanings for governance, shaping who we are today.

Databases as vehicles of discipline and technologies of power: our intention.

We will produce an assemblage of experimental devices exploring the nature of databases as vehicles of discipline and technologies of power. With these devices, we want to produce a number of instruments, a set of apparatus that will form the base of installation(s) and events in the Bristol Council House. We propose that these will take place in either the Main Chamber, Mayor’s Parlour, at the entrance to the Council House or in downstairs offices, or in a mixture of the above. The time proposed is the end of April or early June 2011. We would also like to include a public lecture to be broadcast on video in the chamber. In this lecture we will describe the functioning of the devices so that people can understand the experiments we are doing with them. All the experimental apparatus will be fitted with small surveillance cameras that will broadcast their actions on line, and, if possible, we would like to use the council’s own network and web site to do this.

The contraptions will be formed from investigations that we are currently undertaking with pneumatic actuators and compressed air, converting the social pressure we have found in public expenditure databases, into a force we can me sure and apply to different objects and surfaces. We have also been experimenting with cash-counting machines
that endlessly process the same money, as a possible way of materialising the underlying relations of the abstract numbers. Another area we have been investigating is the database code as a reciprocal machine.

We want to publicly explore an ontology around databases that will make their airs 'real' by creating specific experiments and instruments designed to make the processes and operations of these machines visible. This public exploration will in part take on the form of the early electrical, pneumatic demonstrations of the early 1800's.
Public lectures and spectacular displays, characterised by those of William Sturgeon, Humprey Davy, and Dr Beddoes of the Bristol Pneumatic Institute. We imagine the Chamber Room of Bristol City Council being something like the Royal Society lecture room and people taking their place for the demonstrations to be broadcast on CCTV.

Like the invisible airs investigated by Dr Thomas Beddoes, the forces that run through and contend within databases and their management systems are immediate and available, but their processes can also be invisible and intangible. We want to place the experiments within the Council House, creating a platform to examine the data that evidences
decisions, carrying forward the idea of open government by allowing the public to investigate our work

We foresee that the experiment will be in one room or spread out in a few places around the building dependant on permissions, security and availability. The devices will make use of the B-Open wireless network already fitted into the building to transmit the video and data traffic to the council website. The apparatus we are envisaging will be curious and intriguing, inviting people to witness the technical and experimental process which we see as integral to understanding the phenomena of the relational machine and open data.

The Data:

All that is required
for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” This probable misattribution to Edmund Burke, Bristol MP 1774-80, has been banded about over the last couple of years around issues such as the MP's expenses row. The political storm has resulted in MP's placing their expenses on-line for the first time. COIN has seen government expenditure being placed on-line so all those 'good men' can keep an eye on the government to make sure evil does not happen. The good news for us in all this is that it has led to more openness for government data.

We aim to think about some of these processes and build our experimental apparatus to primarily explore the “Council budgets and spending Expenditure over £500” and any related datasets – we would really like to do this with live data if this is technically possible but can settle for static from a previous month. We will take the database record, and unfold it – reverse engineer it – to understand it as a technology of power.

We are keen to promote and celebrate the council’s openness with it's data and it's willingness to invite people into this process of that opening up. We also want to ask what this data means in the current political climate and situate this within the historical context of Burke (often credited with being the founder of liberal conservatism) and Beddoes (Jacobin, experimenter, activist) and their relationship to the city which will hopefully enable us to think about what we are today. Giving the work this historical angle will encourage people to think through the problems of the present with more depth and less hunger for scandal.

The BCC data is completely innocuous, publicly available and it's very difficult to disagree with spending money on the things it describes. As we wish to demonstrate the electro-pulsations – discharges that come from this database machine we would practically need to get the table layout information or empty records of the parent databases from which the expenses view is constructed. We would also need to see the role based permissions structure that the council uses for it's employees to access the database.

This can be thought of as a mapping of all the threads that go into the “Council budgets and spending Expenditure over £500”